The California Vehicle Code, in Section 2800.1, criminalizes the evasion of a law enforcement officer and marks it as a misdemeanor offense. The crime is defined as purposefully attempting to flee from a pursuing police officer while driving in a motor vehicle. The pursuing officer may be in a police car, motorcycle, or bicycle.
A felony charge can be leveled under VC 2800.2 for “felony reckless evading” or under VC 2800.3 for “evading an officer causing injury or death.” These two crimes are of the same nature as evading an officer though at an aggravated level.
Who Can Be Charged for Evading an Officer?
There are six elements that need to be present before you can be justly charged and convicted of evading an officer:
1. A law enforcement officer in an automobile was pursuing your vehicle.
2. You purposefully attempted to flee from and evade the pursuing officer.
3. The officer’s vehicle had one or more lit red lights viewable from its front, which you did or ought to have seen.
4. The officer sounded a siren.
5. The law enforcement vehicle was “distinctively marked.”
6. The officer was wearing a “distinctive uniform.”
What the Prosecution Must Prove?
Evading an officer is a crime of specific intent, which means that you are not guilty of it unless you specifically intended to do it. It is also required that the act was done willfully. However, it is not required that you intended to break the law or to hurt another person but simply that you intended to evade the officer.
The prosecutor will need to establish beyond reasonable doubt all six elements of the crime. If he can show you knowingly fled a law enforcement vehicle, that it had sirens sounding, red lights flashing, a blue light and vehicle markings to show it was a police vehicle, and an officer in it wearing clothing distinctive to police, then he has won his case. Also note that even a police vest or hat is sufficient, rather than a full uniform being required.
Possible Legal Defenses
Some of the most common legal defenses utilized by criminal defense attorneys in defeated charges of evading an officer include:
● You did not “willingly” flee from the officer because you were in the midst of an emergency situation such as the need to reach the hospital without delay.
● You fled because you were not completely sure it was a legitimate law enforcement officer.
● You were merely trying to find a safe place along the highway to pull over.
● The pursuing vehicle did not have sufficient police markings, a red lamp visible from the front, a blue light to indicate a police car, or a sounding siren.
● The officer had only a badge but lacked distinctive police uniform elements like a vest or a hat.
● You were guilty of voluntary intoxication, and can rightly be given a DUI, but the drugs/alcohol controlled you so that you cannot have had “specific intent” to evade the officer. A six-month instead of one-year jail term can result from a DUI versus an evading an officer conviction, and the latter also is worse to have on your record.
Possible Penalties for Evading an Officer
No matter how many officers/vehicles pursued you, you can only be guilty of a single count of evading an officer per “event giving rise to” the flight. This is a criminal misdemeanor offense, punishable by any of the following:
● A maximum of one year in a county jail
● Misdemeanor summary probation, with suspension of your license as a condition of be let out on probation
● A maximum fine of $1,000
● Impoundment of the vehicle used to evade the officer for up to 30 days
● Loss of any commercial driver’s licenses for a year and for life if convicted of multiple counts
Punishment Enhancements for Evading an Officer
Additional punishment can accrue from certain circumstances that may be involved in some evading an officer cases, chief among them being the following:
● If you evade an officer with “wanton disregard” for the safety of other people and/or their property, you can be charged with felony-level “reckless evading of an officer.” Technically, you could still receive a misdemeanor since this crime, handled under VC 2800.2, is a “wobbler.” However, it is normally prosecuted as a felony and is then punishable by 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.
● If, while evading an officer, you inflict “serious bodily injury” or death on another, you can be charged under VC 2800.3, which is also a wobbler, for injuries, that is punishable by 3, 5, or 7 years in state prison. In the case of causing death, it is a felony punishable by 4, 6, or 10 years in state prison.
Reduction to “Disturbing the Peace”
If the prosecutor sees he has a somewhat weak case but does not want to go so far as to dismiss it, a plea bargain reducing the charges to “disturbing the peace,” as outlined in Penal Code Section 415, may be reached. The punishment would then be lessened to 90 days at most in county jail and a fine of up to $400. The stigma on the defendant’s record would also be much less severe.
How We Can Help With Evading an Officer Criminal Charge?
We at the Law Offices of Jeff Voll have much experience and expertise in handling evading an officer cases, and we can maximize your chances of an acquittal or minimal sentencing. We serve the L.A. area and all of southern California and you can call us 24/7 at 323-467-6400 for a free consultation and answers to all of your questions relating to the charge of evading an officer.